By Jennifer Kornegay
One of my favorite discoveries since singing up for the CSA program through Hampstead Farms has been learning that I do like sweet potatoes. For as long as I can remember, I've avoided this root veggie at all costs. I did not like them fried, baked, on a plane, on a train, prepared in any way, anywhere. The most vile use of sweet potatoes was the casserole, the one made by great aunts around the holidays and packed with pecans, brown sugar and then crowned with gooey marshmallows.
Upon first introduction when I was a kid, the casserole sounded great. A vegetable dish that looked like dessert, had dessert ingredients and was still approved by mom to have at dinner? Score! Until I tasted it. The sweet potatoes were thick and pasty, and their natural, subtle sweetness was completely overwhelmed by all the added sugar. One bite, and my mind was made up. "No thanks. I don't eat sweet potatoes," was my ready response anytime they were offered in any form.
Then, last fall, as part of my CSA stash, I got pound after pound of them. Big, small, long, bumpy. I put them in a wooden bowl on my counter and waited for them to rot, planning to employ that as my excuse to not use them. "Oh, darn. We didn't get around to eating these quick enough, and now I'll have to throw them out," I'd say with well-rehearsed disappointment, even though I'd made a pledge (basically to myself) to eat everything I got in my CSA bag each week. But sweet potatoes are hardy; they don't rot very quickly. After a few weeks, I had far too many piled up in that bowl to ignore, so I turned to the internet and did a quick recipe search. I instantly scrolled past any that had the word casserole in the title and finally happened upon something that looked promising: a sweet potato hash.
Today, it's one of my favorite things to eat, and Hampstead Farms can barely provide enough sweet potatoes to make me happy. I changed up the recipe some but still have to give credit to Sunny Anderson of the Food Network for giving me a great framework. The key to my new take on sweet potatoes is finding ways to complement and balance, not amplify, their sweetness. Hence the cumin, hot peppers and the salty goodness of pork fat used in this concoction. I added a few regular potatoes too to give it a little variety. I'll probably never like sweet potato casserole, but I can't get enough of this stuff. Try it on any sweet-potato hater in your household, and I'll bet you get a convert. Enjoy!
Not Too Sweet Potato Hash
First: Cook regular potatoes in salted, boiling water for three minutes and then drain on paper towels to dry.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add the bacon and olive oil. When the oil heats and the bacon begins to brown, add the sweet potatoes and par-boiled regular potatoes and spread out as much as possible to allow the potatoes to rest in the pan in 1 layer. Leave the potatoes to cook until a quick toss reveals browning on the side in contact with the pan, about 5 minutes. Continue to toss and let stand until most sides of the potatoes are golden and the bacon gets crisp 3 to 5 minutes longer. Then add the onion, peppers, cumin and season with a nice pinch of salt and a grind or 2 of pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes longer, until onions are softened.
Oh, and here are a few notable nutrition facts: Sweet potatoes are good sources of fiber and excellent sources of vitamin A. One serving provides over 400 percent of the recommended daily value. Pretty sweet.